Friday, December 18, 2015

Not your Grandfather's Retsina: Domaine Stelios Kechris (Kalachori, Thessaloniki, Greece)

I visited Greece for the first time during the Olympics in 2004 and, while there, had my first taste of Retsina. I knew then that I would not be drinking that wine again. So when I heard that the first visit on Day Four of our North Greece Wine Trail Press Trip would be with Domaine Stelios Kechris -- and that Domaine Kechris' focus was on Retsina -- I crossed my arms across my chest and prepared to hate it.

Route of North Greece Wine Trail Press Trip

Metsovo is a picturesque village in the mountains of Pindus and, coming in late on the previous night for our Katogi Averoff visit, we had not had a chance to capture, visually or otherwise, any of its famous charm. We made another attempt by driving through on our early morning exit but ... it was too early. So we embarked on our 208 km (129 miles) journey on (mostly) fog-shrouded mountain roads towards Domaine Stelios Kechris in Kalochori.

When the van pulled up in front of this building in a commercial district, I was somewhat surprised. Not a vine plant in sight. During the course of the trip I came to understand that fermentation and aging were conducted at this facility using grapes brought in from outlying areas.

We were welcomed by the owner Stelios Kechris, who also happens to be the President of Wines of North Greece, and Yiorgos Darlas, the individual responsible for the Domaine's Public Relations and Corporate Communications.

In his opening remarks Mr Kechris noted:
  • The over 300-year history of winemaking in North Greece
  • The prominence of the Xinomavro and Malagouzia varieties in the region's wine profile
  • The region's success with some of the famous international varieties
  • The fact that North Greece was home to some of the best wineries in Greece as well as two of the largest wineries in the country.
As regards his winery, it has a 100-year history and is now being operated by the third generation. It is export-oriented, with over 1/3 of its production shipped overseas. The domaine produces nine wines but its focus is on Retsina, a wine they believe in. Retsina has a long history and is produced only in Greece. It has Traditional Appellation status and that status is protected by the European Union.

Mr Kechris, and his daughter Eleni (who joined us during the course of the day's events), sought to emphasize the difference between the Retsinas that they are making and other Retsinas (historical as well as some being made by others currently) by using the term "tradition in motion." That is to say that they are making a traditional product -- Retsina -- but they are applying modern techniques and protocols in order to produce the best wine possible. Retsina is still a wine where pine resin is added to the must at the start of fermentation and then removed at its conclusion but they seek to ensure that only the highest quality fruit and resin are employed as raw materials. Further, Mr. Kechris maintains that the resin's aroma and feel needs to be a background characteristic, much the same as is the case for barrel characteristics; and it should have a certain elegance.

Eleni Kechris of Domaine Stelios Kechris

After a short tour of the winemaking facilities, we repaired to one of the upstairs rooms for our tasting and lunch.

Yiorgos Darlas of Domaine Stelios Kechris
The first wine tasted was the 2014 Kechribari. This wine, according to Mr Kechris, has a history dating back to 1939. It is made from 100% Roditis and is vinified in stainless steel. A small quantity of top quality fresh pine resin is added during alcoholic fermentation. I brought the glass to my nose, expecting a full-blooded dose of pine resin but it was not there. Instead I got some white fruits and citrus notes along with a mustiness, some herbal aromas, and pine resin. It was not off-putting. Refreshing and layered on the palate with no single character dominant.

The second wine tasted was the 2014 Tears of the Pine. Mr. Kechris characterized this wine as innovative as it was the first Retsina produced from Assyrtiko and was initially launched in 2006. It is fermented in oak and spends 6 months on its fine lees. The pine resin is added at the beginning of fermentation. The aim for this wine is to have a perfect balance between oak, resin, and fruit.

This was an extremely interesting wine. The aromas revealed in stages with fruit first, followed by resin and barrel and with a prominent rosemary note. Other aroma notes include ginger beer, coconut, vanilla, and herbs. One of the notes that I made to myself at the time said "ginger beer wine with acidity." Incredible layered complexity. I absolutely loved this wine. And remember it was a Retsina. The wine I vowed never to drink again.

The third Retsina tasted that day was called On a Rosé Background. This is a dry rosé made from 100% Xinomavro. The grapes are macerated for a short period before alcoholic fermentation in oak barrels -- and in the presence of pine resin -- proceeds. The wine is matured on its fine lees for 5 months. This wine also manifested a beautiful complexity and ginger beer character, spiciness, rust, and a little blood. As in the case of the previous wines, a lengthy finish.

We tasted a few other wines and did have lunch but I wanted to focus on the Resinas for this post. I came in with a bad attitude but, like Saul on the road to Damascus, I saw the light. I do not know if there are many producers making Retsina in this fashion, or if this is something unique to Domaine Stelios Kechris, but I would recommend tasting the wines from this Domaine to establish a baseline against which other Retsinas can be compared. And these are not just high-quality Retsinas. These are high quality wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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